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GTP20: A resilient approach to excessive stress symptoms – prevention is better than cure

CIPD

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2020 Growth Through People campaign.

Growth Through People is the Chamber’s annual campaign aiming to help local firms boost productivity and grow through improved leadership and people management skills. In 2020 this involves 8 free workshops taking place between 2nd March and 27th March, culminating in a full-day Growth Through People conference on 2nd April. In addition, throughout the campaign the Chambers will be publishing thought leadership podcasts, videos and blog content such as this.

Thanks to our Headline Sponsors – Prime Accountants Group, Aston University, Curium Solutions and CIPD - all workshops are free to attend. Interested readers can find out more and register to attend Growth Through People workshops here, and the Growth Through People conference here.

Stress is part and parcel of modern life, but when we struggle to cope with it over a long period, this can have very negative effects on our physical and mental health, our relationships, and our attendance and performance at work.

Excessive stress challenges each of us in different ways; some will be more anxious, irritable or have a shorter temper than usual; others feel over-whelmed or deeply sad. It is often linked to dips in motivation, trouble sleeping, and problems with memory, decision-making or concentration. It often causes dips on working performance, it is the most common cause of sickness absence from work, and it is a common reason given by employees who resign from their jobs.

In recent years, advice about combatting excessive stress has seemed to focus on recognising and managing excessive stress symptoms. Advisors usually recommend techniques like mindfulness, exercise, getting plenty of sleep, controlling alcohol and diet, and making space for relaxation in our personal lives. That implies that the symptoms of excessive stress (and their negative impacts on our health and happiness) are an inevitable part of modern life; all we can do is react to them whenever they become too invasive, to get them back under control.

However, it is also possible to take a more proactive and resilient approach, by learning to recognise and manage excessive stress triggers. This involves reducing or avoiding triggers in our daily lives, and using our new-found self-awareness about our personal triggers, to control our emotional reactions to them very consciously, so that the stress we feel doesn’t exceed our ability to cope.

In the same way that excessive stress causes different symptoms in each of us, different triggers can cause our feelings of excessive stress. However, here are 7 very common ones: 

  1. Distraction – being pulled way from your key focus by things which are less important
  2. Bad news – particularly if unexpected
  3. Own or others’ mistakes
  4. Difficult messages – both giving these, and hearing them
  5. Difficult people – e.g. those who do not share your cultural expectations, or behave badly
  6. Unresolved conflict
  7. Poor self-confidence

There are several techniques which will help to identify and/or to control our personal stress triggers. The most important is support – no-one will find it easy tackling these issues alone. In the workplace, one key source of support should be the person’s immediate leader or manager, and a good stress risk assessment tool, such as the one provided by the Health and Safety Executive,  should help to frame the ongoing conversation https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/standards/index.htm

Some people find it helpful to keep busy with something else, while their subconscious works on their stress challenges. However, most people find value in taking time to ponder. Some talk to a diverse range of people about their stress challenges; this helps them to see things from lots of different perspectives, to stay objective, and to remain realistically positive.

Would it help to talk to us?

You can apply for free face-to-face HR advice and business support, from the People Skills initiative, which is run by the CIPD with Government funding. The People Skills initiative is supported by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP and Growth Hub, the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, West Midlands Combined Authority, Aston University, Birmingham University, Birmingham City University, and South Birmingham & City College.

Please phone 07872403580 or email peopleskills@cipd.co.uk to take part.

Amanda Bellfield
Programme Manager
CIPD